It wasn’t so much the performance, but the potential it uncovered that might be the most lasting effect from the Charlotte Hornets’ 110-82 dismantling of the New York Knicks on Saturday.
Still working with a lineup that remains unsettled from day to day, the Hornets combined stingy defense with precision ball movement while building as much as a 45-point lead over the Knicks to a loud chorus of boos at Madison Square Garden.
The win is a season-high fifth consecutive victory for Charlotte and comes on the heels of a five-game losing streak.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford is unwilling to point to any one common denominator as a key to his team’s turnaround, but he has ideas.
“More purpose, less mistakes,” he said. “I think the pace to our play offensively has helped us, but defensively we’re just more locked in and making less mistakes.
“I liked our readiness, the way we played, and I thought we did it all the way until the end. Even guys off the bench went in and played with good purpose.”
Kemba Walker once again was the offensive catalyst for the Hornets, finishing with 28 points – his fifth-consecutive game of scoring 20 or more.
“We have been moving the basketball, playing good defense, and we have great communication out there,” said Walker, who did not play in the fourth quarter. “Everyone is in the right spot and just making plays.”
In this game, however, Walker had plenty of help.
P.J. Hairston, who missed Thursday’s win at Toronto with an illness, rejoined the team in New York and was an integral part of Charlotte’s offensive explosion in the second quarter that saw the Hornets outscore the Knicks 41-13.
Hairston contributed 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, as the Hornets blew open what was a close game at the end of the first quarter and turned it into a 62-31 advantage at halftime.
“I was able to hit open shots and help my teammates,” said Hairston, who tied a career-high with 15 points. “It’s just been a matter of finding my rhythm.”
Regardless of the fact the Hornets were playing against a vastly undermanned Knicks team, Hairston said he believes the last five games have offered fans – and even the team itself – a glimpse of what is possible this season.
“I don’t want to say we let people down, but we’ve had our ups and downs and we’ve had our struggles,” he said. “I feel like now we have found our chemistry. I feel like we’re going to do more of proving people wrong.”
All 11 Hornets players who saw action Saturday scored, including small forward Jeff Taylor who was called up Friday from the Austin Spurs of the NBA D-League.
Taylor, who was suspended 24 games earlier in the season after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, played 12 minutes and scored two points, grabbed three rebounds and had two assists.
Center Bismack Biyombo, seeing increased time with the absence of Jefferson, tied a career high with 14 points and had a season-high 12 rebounds.
The Hornets are off until Wednesday when they host San Antonio at Time Warner Cable Arena, the teams’ first meeting this season.
The loss was the Knicks’ 15th in a row, and New York fell to 5-35 with their 25th loss in 26 games.
“It was a tough afternoon, for sure,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said. “We all have to continue to learn that it’s not easy to win in this league. We’re obviously finding that out the hard way.”